Filipino-French alliance in win-win war against poverty
Tony Meloto (The Philippine Star) - November 28, 2015 - 9:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The French social entrepreneurs and interns at the GK Enchanted Farm were as usual up early that Sunday morning of Nov. 15.

Victor Beulque tended his boisterous Pekin ducks, Louis Faure chased his free range chickens in the bamboo villa, Berenice Stagnara milked her La Mancha goats.

This time, however, they were somber instead of their normal exuberant selves, not able to make sense of the senselessness and viciousness of the terrorist attacks in Paris the night of Friday the 13th against their countrymen – schoolmates, relatives and friends.

More devastating, as they later articulated, was the realization of the fragility and vulnerability of their charmed way of life and the false security that their affluence and enlightenment could protect them from harm in a world of grave inequality.

They managed to keep in check whatever grief, fear or anger they felt later on in the morning as they greeted with graciousness and hospitality the 160 APEC young leaders and organizers from 17 member economies under the Voices of the Future program.

The choice of the GK Enchanted Farm as the APEC venue outside of hotels and convention centers in Metro Manila was appropriate grounding for future decision-makers, as the message of the week-long gathering of global leaders was about integration and inclusion. Exclusion for whatever reason – race, religion, gender, ideology, money, politics – is at the heart of most conflicts known to man and inflicts the deepest societal wounds.

We all suffer when one billion of the world’s population can indulge their luxury and vanity while six billion endure poverty and every imaginable infirmity, man-made tragedy and natural calamity.

Shared tragedy

The atrocity in Paris was a shared tragedy for all the young people gathered at the Hyundai Hall for Green Innovation – APEC delegates, European and American interns, community mothers, farmers, students from the college for social entrepreneurs (SEED Philippines) – who all stood and observed a moment of silence as an act of solidarity with victims of the attacks.

The common sentiment among them was how to build a fairer and safer world, how to turn threat into protection, and how to convert their own fear into positive action today for a more secure tomorrow.

They are keenly aware that a long history of extractive colonization and globalization has left many in weak countries hungry and angry. The hungry are now flocking to rich nations as refugees for survival, the angry are turning weapons in local wars against the innocents of the powerful countries that supplied them.

Listening to the voices of APEC young leaders, this is the world they are inheriting, but definitely, not the world they want.

Shared humanity

They came to the GK Enchanted Farm, just like many before them, in search of new pathways to an enlightened world where no one is an enemy, a victim or a prey. This 35-hectare former rebel territory north of Manila has known peace in the last five years since we built the first farm village ecosystem for social entrepreneurs in the country together with Singaporean designers from NUS and over a thousand French (and a sprinkling of other nationalities) interns and volunteers to-date, without a security guard at the gate or a fence around its borders. It is home to the most privileged (from the city and abroad) and the least fortunate, mostly subsistence farmers, construction workers and tricycle drivers who now live, study and work together as family and partners in building a solidarity economy, where no one is left behind in poverty or living without dignity.

It was strange for our community that on Sunday we were surrounded by 340 armed soldiers and policemen, with sniffer dogs, who guarded the APEC young leaders during their visit.

Gawad Kalinga, our movement for nation-building to help end poverty in the Philippines by 2024, has already spawned 2,500 communities for over a million Filipinos. Many of these villages have been built in calamity and rebel areas and urban slums, as we continuously strive for common sense answers and win-win solutions which can bring about inclusive growth.

So far, we have turned troubled slums into peaceful communities and our human liabilities into assets, with our radical optimism in the greatness of the human spirit and our radical commitment to a peaceful process. 

Better to sweat for peace than to bleed in war. 

This fundamental philosophy is clear to our communities, volunteers and partners.

Shared prosperity

People often ask me “why the French?” and I reply, “why not the French?“

Maybe they are drawn to our bottom-up approach of shared prosperity by matching compassion with competence, our lofty idealism alongside enlightened pragmatism. Perhaps they see in our communities proof of concept that the French ideals of Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité can actually work in bringing the bottom of the pyramid up.

They come to teach us business systems, in return they learn, from the rising poor in GK villages, the business of caring and sharing.

They come to teach us the business of profit maximization, in turn they learn the business of happiness optimization.

They discover joy among people who have known so much suffering, generosity from those who have the least in life. Many of them arrive on our doorsteps with complaints about all that is wrong with the world, something which they themselves admit has become a habit for the French.

They leave our shores with solutions to many of their complaints.

What’s our win-win strategy with the French in helping to end poverty in our country? The best from the West, in solidarity with the best from the East, will bring out the best from the least.

Popular French environmentalist Nicolas Hulot shot me a straight-forward question in our meeting in preparation for President Francois Hollande’s state Visit to the Philippines last February: “Is France going to lose our bright young leaders to the Philippines?” To which I gave a straight-forward answer: “No, but France will gain more friends, partners and market in the Philippines, the second fastest rising economy in the world (per Bloomberg’s report).”

Our interns and social entrepreneurs from 22 leading universities in France have been among the best ambassadors of France to the Philippines over the last five years. Many of them eventually went back to France to found their own social movement, such as Ticket for Change (Matthieu Dardallion) or Make Sense (Leila Hoballah).

The young APEC leaders ended their visit to the GK Enchanted Farm inspired by the deep affection between two unlikely partners – France and the Philippines – in building a safer world.

We invite you all to join us this coming January for the Third Social Business Summit, a gathering of 500 local and international delegates including business leaders, entrepreneurs and students who are curious to know more about our equally unlikely partnership of rich and poor at the farm to create sustainable prosperity and peace.

The path to peace should not be stained with bloodshed but built with the sweat of everyday heroes, planting seeds of hope wherever there is despair, and seeing the neglected as our undiscovered blessing, not the worst of our burdens.

The Social Business Summit will take place from Jan. 15-17 2016 at the GK Enchanted Farm. For more information, please contact:





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